Having grown up in the late 1960s, there are plenty of bands and songs that represent that era of pop music in America well. You could pick the Beatles, or the Who, or Peter, Paul & Mary. The Zombies would be near the top of my list, but so would Tommy James and the Shondells. I can still recall my older cousins from Sacramento, CA., listening to Jimmy Ruffin’s Motown hit, What Becomes of a Brokenhearted over and over again. It grew on me so quickly I bought the 45 myself.
But it’s the songs of Glen Campbell that take me back to a time when all I had was an AM radio and a newspaper delivery route while going to junior high school. I hated junior high, but at least I had the tinny music that came out of a two-inch speaker. When Campbell’s versions of Jimmy Webb’s songs hit the airwaves in 1967 and 68, I was already playing the guitar with my friends in the neighborhood and taking group lessons with them. I know we learned, or tried to learn, some of Campbell’s tunes because they were so popular.
That’s why Wichita Lineman and Galveston have stuck with me for so long. Wichita Lineman was #3 on the pop charts and was #1 on the country charts, although I never thought of it as a country song. Rolling Stone’s updated list of the greatest 500 songs rates Wichita at #195. I never thought of Campbell as a country singer, although the twang in his voice is undeniable. As a 12-year-old, all I knew was that Top 40 music was rock and rock was Top 40.
Perhaps it’s the poignancy of the lyrics from By The Time I Get To Phoenix that get me. The words are simple, but speak to the heart well. Damn that Jimmy Webb could write a lyric! And let’s face it, Campbell delivers when he sings, particularly the music by Webb. They’re great songs sung by a musician with one of the more interesting histories in American pop. The guy was briefly part of the Beach Boys, the Champs and played with the Wrecking Crew, too. Jeez, how do you do that?
Campbell also co-starred with John Wayne in one of great films, True Grit. Campbell was no actor and is occasionally stiff when he delivers his lines. Still, he is a large part of the American pop landscape. I recommend the original True Grit to people who don’t like Westerns. Much funnier than the recent remake.
Campbell’s recordings before his fame are worth seeking out, if only for his guitar work. Try 12 string Guitar! by the Folkswingers on World Pacific (1963), or The Astounding 12 String Guitar of Glen Campbell (Capitol, 1964).
So it is with sadness that I continue to hear the news that his Alzheimer’s continues to progress. It’s not hard to imagine that at some point, he won’t know who he is or why he was famous. A damned shame, this disease that robs us of ourselves.
So I continue to listen over and over to Campbell, just like I did when my AM radio played his songs to death every hour of every day. Thanks, Glen.
Got two minutes and six seconds? Check out music by Glen, including live versions of his famous tunes you may not have heard!
Wanna see a list of Glen’s Top 40 hits? Here it is!